Poem written by Allen Ginsberg
I could be wrong about this, but I believe that poetry started being free on the internet first, before music and video and lunacy and porn. Not surprisingly, Big Poetry did not bring all the force of its corporate power to bear on those who would share poems without sending a few pennies to the poet or their corporate “protectors.” No, we live in a world where poetry is given away for free and we shrug and we figure the price is about right.
Poets tend to toil in obscurity. I know the U.S. has a poet laureate, but I did not know that the role started as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, which was changed in 1986 to Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. The post was funded in 1936 by an endowment. From the sound of things, the endowment remains the funding, so I am guessing that Congress decided to give a better title instead of a raise.
Here are the holders going back to 2001 (I could not have done this list without Wikipedia):
2001–2003: Billy Collins
2003–2004: Louise Glück
2004–2006: Ted Kooser
2006–2007: Donald Hall
2007–2008: Charles Simic
2008–2010: Kay Ryan
2010–2011: W. S. Merwin
2011–2012: Philip Levine
2012–2014: Natasha Trethewey
2014–2015: Charles Wright
2015–2017: Juan Felipe Herrera
2017–present: Tracy K. Smith
I’ve read poems by five or six of these folks and go out of my way for two of them. Honestly, I haven’t a clue about the last four. While maybe I should feel bad about this, I don’t.
All of this
is a long way of saying that we don’t generally remember our poets. We don;t particularly celebrate them either. If they cross over into the world of personality, then our culture has something with which it can work. Charles Bukowski did this for a while. Better yet, a poet can manage a guitar or piano and we call them a singer/songwriter. In either case, we forgive the quality of the poetry in favor of the performance.
Ginsberg had the performance part down. He also managed to appear at moments when television cameras would be on. I knew who he was from the national news before I knew that he was a poet. Really, he seemed like another one of those too old people hanging around youth movements of the moment- like William Burroughs, Timothy Leary, and Terry Southern. All sorts of “adults” popped up on college campuses seeking counter-culture verifieds.
Lasting in the memory is really what we want from our poetry. That proves a deft trick because we don’t always grant a poem more than a cursory thought. Perhaps the other part of the trick is hitting an audience when they are young. I’m not sure my brain is made for memorizing stanzas anymore. For that matter, I’m not sure I have conversations anymore where dropping in a line of poetry does anything more than bring matters to a halt.
And then I read Howl. I’ve been wrong before and I’ll be wrong again.
What’s it all about?
You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 85 more to go.
New additions to You’ve Got to Check This Out release regularly. Also, free humor, short works, and poetry post irregularly. Receive notifications on Facebook by friending or following Craig.
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